User:Vuara/Oral tradition of the Ancient

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  • Ancient tribes of the Southwest

  • An example of a ligature

  • This panel is almost 6 meters square

  • In this panel the symbols begin in the upper left and move down.

Introduction and translations by Dr. James R. Harris Expedition material and subsequent translations by Gary Vey.

Oral Tradition and History of the Ancient People

Information concerning the ancient ancestors of the Eastern Pueblos is scarce but certainly not totally missing. What contemporary descendants are able to tell us of their forefathers ranks high in value as we piece together the elements of this complex historical equation.

In 1976 a well educated and articulate Jemez Pueblo man named Joe S. Sando, son of Juanito Sando, published a book titled, The Pueblo Indians. Pages seventeen to nineteen of Chapter 2, summarizing most of the oral tradition concerning Eastern Pueblo origins known to Professor Sando. (See also the "Historical Outline," pp. 207-208). Some quotes from his text follow:

The people came from the north to their present areas of residence, from the place of origin in Shibapu, where they emerged from the underworld by way of a lake. I suggest that just as we speak of the Old and New Worlds being separated from each other by two great oceans, this ancient Pueblo tradition portrays a journey from an earlier world through water to the present world. From our studies of emergence symbols coupled with inscriptions it is clear that emergence from the first world to the fourth and present world does not end the emergence cycle. Rather we are continuing to emerge with a potential to reach the Seventh World and the realm of Yah, whose name appears so often in the inscriptions of the Ancients.

During their journeys they were led by the War Chief. This chief served for life. With his assistants and annually appointed captains and their staffs, they constituted a force responsible for clearing the path upon which the people traveled. And with them came the Great Spirit, and he guided the ancient ones through the many arduous tasks of daily life. For unknown ages the ancient people were led from place to place upon this great continent [North America]. Many of them finally settled in the four corners area [the junction of Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico], where they developed their civilization and settled for some hundreds of years before moving to their present homeland. As the ancient one related, it was in order to preserve the people from total annihilation that the Great Spirit impelled them to migrate. This they did, in groups and in different directions. Thus it is that the people created new dialects. The country where the ancient people lived was a vast open land of deserts, plains, and mountains. Here they built their villages and enhanced their lives. But they were filled with longing for perfection in their lives, harmony with their environment, and so they moved from time to time to other places with better sources of food and a better environment. (Sando 1975, p.17).

The monumental constructions and prosperous communities that spread over a wide area from northeastern Arizona to northeastern New Mexico are called to our attention by Sando. He was concerned with pointing out that the great success of the Pueblo people was maintained because when "they came face to face with nature, [they] did not exploit her. They became part of the ecological balance instead of abusing and finally destroying it."(Sando, 1976, pp.18-19).

It seems probable that learning to live in harmony with nature was a long process (even for the ancients). The most ancient Hohokam prospered using channel irrigation and thus maximized the use of the waters of the Salt and Gila Rivers. A series of dry years resulted in abandoning channel communities and removing some to areas near the river and extending colonization establishments to the Verde, the Little Colorado, the San Juan, the Virgin, the Lower Colorado, and also the Sevier River.

Ancient tribes of the Southwest as envisioned and classified by modern anthropologists.

These colonizations were sub-cultures of the Hohokam and their material remains were named by modern man as Sinagua, Anasazi, Fremont, Mogollon, and Patayan (the latter term is not a tribal designation but refers to a family of tribes located in the Lower Colorado River area).

In these sub-cultures the building skills (stone construction), the agricultural technology and even the alphabetic writing system has survived on the rock inscriptions. The inscriptions seem to be most numerous in the early stages of the development of these sub-cultures (for example Anasazi, Basket-maker II, is the stage of the longest, oldest and most accurately constructed sign forms). The Classic period appears to have Great Kivas, and large condos but also to have lost completely the skill of writing and reading the ancient Southwestern script (or with the utilization of the Kiva, sacred things may have been written on perishable material kept in the Kiva).

The different names given to these cultures has suggested to the minds of most modern investigators that these were different peoples. May we suggest while their ancestral roots consisted of a hybrid made of Old Semitic speakers up from Mexico and the very ancient Desert Archaic people that were in the Southwest "from of old," they were the same people whose culture was further modified by adapting to different environments and further encounters with other cultures.

Why do people think that if you wear different shoes, and have different colored dishes, with different designs and some different tools to work with, you are a different race of people?

In May of 1980 I was in Albuquerque, to participate in an ARARA convention, and had an opportunity to visit with Joe Sando and his lovely wife at their home just outside of Albuquerque. One of the statements made by Joe, among others that have stuck in my mind, was, "Why do people think that if you wear different shoes, and have different colored dishes, with different designs and some different tools to work with, you are a different race of people?" Archaeologists and anthropologists have differentiated these ancient cultures on the basis of something as superficial as their material cultural remains with the result described above.

We now have something far less superficial to add to the unveiling of the origin of ancient cultures in the Southwest. We have a script of twenty two sounds, a language that gives it meaning, and small windows of history through which we can view the ancient religious ideas, and ethical values of these ancients.

The above remarks do not mean that we regard the classification and orderly identification of material cultural remains to have been a wasted effort. These laborious scientifically reconstructed patterns of material cultural movement are invaluable in the determination of places, times, and movements of peoples with the rock art inscriptions that are coexistent with their artifacts.

Since we are going to take a hard look at the inscriptions found in the Purgatory River (AKA "Picket Wire River") area of Southeastern Colorado the scientific study unveiling the Largo-Gallina Phase in north-central New Mexico will help us to see that there are some very plausible ties between Taos and Picuris (also Tanoans in general), with the ancient peoples that produced these inscriptions.

In the description given by Wormington, this culture is described as "Pueblo-like" and fits into "Great Pueblo" times, although it is not entirely Anasazi. Tree-ring dates place the period of occupation from the beginning of the twelfth to the middle of the thirteenth century [a period when the great Southwestern cultures fade into small tribal units on the move].

It is possible that the inscriptions were composed centuries before this period and that reading and writing skills had been lost in earlier centuries.

Dwellings include pit houses, surface houses of uncoarsed stone, and surface houses of coursed stone. Still later structures seem to be small pueblos. The Largo county site is in on the west of the continental divide while Gallina is on the east slope of the continental divide. Similar characteristics are found at both sites. Walls of homes are often four feet thick. Floors are often covered with flagstone, and roofs are of pole and adobe foundation with flagstones providing a shingle effect. In summary, these sites have been described as "a marginal Anasazi development from Basketmaker III to Pueblo I times" and showing foreign influence from the north (H.M. Wormington, 1947, pp.102-105, 176).

The head waters of the Purgatory River are about twelve miles north of the Colorado - New Mexico border, just east of the continental divide.

The Purgatory River panels from the McGlone-Leonard collection were included in a study titled "Age Determination of Petroglyphs in Southeastern Colorado" by Dorn, McGlone & Leonard, appearing in South-western Lore, Vol. 56, No. 2, pp.21 and another article in South-western Lore, by Gerald Blair, "Archaeological Investigations In the Upper Purgatory River Drainage Southeastern Colorado," Vol. 41, No. 3, September 1975, p.41, contained a useful comment as follows:

[The Purgatory River area] has a very complex history of occupation which has changed significantly previous ideas concerning the prehistory of the Purgatory drainage. An early pithouse on the western terrace has a ramp entry way not unlike Mogollon structures farther south in northern New Mexico. It is not unreasonable to expect Mogollon influence in the Trinidad region.

All of the panels shown in this article are but a small part of a collection made by Phil Leonard and William McGlone within the last decade. In 1992, Bill McGlone allowed Brian Stubbs to sketch a selection of these inscriptions from his file of sketches and photographs kept at his home in La Junta, Colorado. Later, Brian allowed me (J. Harris) to copy his set of inscriptions so that I would be able to do some independent studies and work with the signs. I selected about twenty of the most promising panels for their similarity to Old Negev and because they appeared to carry clear letter forms. A major interest in them was to obtain a large enough sample of signs to determine if we are dealing with the same alphabet found in Arizona and Utah. There is no doubt, from the sign studies, that the Purgatory Script has a close tie with Old Negev found throughout the desert Southwest and in the Negev region of the Middle East.

It is equally clear that the Purgatory script is a regional variation and, in addition to modifications in sign forms, may also have usage features that modestly differ from Old Negev of the more Western Pueblo ancestors.

Brian Stubbs also mentioned that he was working with photographs and slides when he obtained the sketches used in this article and that he could not always be certain of the correct orientation of the signs (i.e. right side up or up side down).

Translation Program In Progress Use Explorer only.

This program is 250k and contains a javascript database created by Gary Vey, Viewzone Editor, that will operate on cross-platform browsers. It is presently 90 percent complete and will translate most of the old Negev script into familiar English phrases. To use this you must first understand how to read ligatures and other combined symbols. (See also FAQ.) This will take a few minutes to download but it is worthwhile and can be used on a laptop running a javascript browser.

I (Harris) sent copies of the sketches back to McGlone and Leonard, asking that they identify any that were incorrectly sketched. They agreed to do so but never followed through. This could have meant that they changed their minds or that the orientations were all correct. If a few of the translated sketches are found to be up side down it will not change the general conclusions drawn here.

The panel selection is too small to attempt a reconstruction of the language and script usage characteristics but some tentative possibilities and tentative translations will be presented in this article.

We (Harris and Hone) would like to see Phil Leonard team up with a competent and courageous West Semitic scholar (one not afraid to challenge main stream canonized doctrine) and reconstruct the language and script usage in the Purgatory inscriptions (beginning where Harris and Hone left off).

We suggest that there is a very great possibility, indicated by both the language and the script, that these ancients who wrote the Purgatory River [or Picket Wire River] inscriptions, were descendents of the Old Semitic speakers up from Mexico that became the Hohokam. They were likely members of the colony that were sent to the Virgin River area and, sometime later, whose descendents moved East, mixing with more of their Desert Archaic cousins.

It is also quite possible that this eastward movement resulted in a loss of reading and writing skills which furthered diversity of dialects and languages. Pueblo brothers and sisters say "hello" to some of your ancestors, "Shalom."


Ancient History from the Scribes of Purgatory Commentary by Gary Vey

The petroglyphs of the Purgatory River (called "Picket Wire" River by the locals) are very old and worn by wind and the extreme temperatures of the region. The symbols are formed by pecking at the canyon wall with some sharp tool and the impressions, although once deep, are now very shallow and barely visible to the naked eye. [See close-up at right] In fact, the best way to view these petroglyphs is to approach the wall when the sun is at a right angle to the wall and will cast shadows in the tiny pits and grooves that are left in the stone.

The Purgatory River canyons were home to the Plains Indians, who found the area a good hunting ground. Thus, often the faint symbols of the ancient carvers have been covered with more recent art of the Ute and other tribes. It is only when one is trained to recognize the twenty two symbols of Old Negev, and the variants of each symbol to the region, that one can successfully identify a group or panel of the script.

The chart below shows some of the variants of the ancient alphabet as it was found in the Negev desert of Israel (known to have been made around 1500 BC) and in the Purgatory River canyons of Colorado. The corresponding Hebrew symbols are also shown.

You will note that each Old Negev symbol has a corresponding Hebrew character which represents a phonetic sound. A "Yod" will have the sound of a "Y," while a "He" will have the sound of an "H," and so on. As in Hebrew, the signs are often read from right to left, but not always. In ancient times there was really no convention for writing in a particular direction; however, the Purgatory scripts appear to use the right-to-left direction in most circumstances.

Another interesting and important feature of this ancient writing system is the use of what are called ligatures. Since the symbols are often made from basic geometric shapes, they can be combined in visually interesting ways to form words. An example of a ligature is shown on the right. Notice how the ligature combines two basic symbols to spell the name of the deity, Yah. The vowel, in this case an "a" is omitted out of respect for the deity, whose name was never written on either continent out of respect for its sacred invocation. Ligatures sometimes can be designed to imitate the concept that they represent and their instant recognition helped facilitate the translation.

Dr. James Harris has noted that, in the Sinai desert, certain symbols are sometimes enlarged, rotated or inverted to indicate the end of a word or phrase. He also has recognized that many archaic symbols, called ideograms, appear to add meaning to the script. Ideograms were also used by the Plains Indians as a kind of shorthand - the most widely used was the outline of a reclining figure (below) with a pipe or protrusion extending from the mouth. Ideograms such as this were used in the same manner as one would use "once upon a time, long ago..." to introduce a story or legend.

The method of translating the Purgatory River canyon symbols is fairly straight forward. Gary Vey has described many minor variants of the Colorado script from the Sinai version, but notes that these are only two letters of the alphabet. "In both cases," says Vey, "the people [in Colorado] reverted to a regional style based on the classic symbol but drawn their way." A group of Old Negev symbols is first identified and recorded. Any ligatures that appear are then broken down to their fundamental alphabetical elements and the Old Negev is then translated using old Hebrew sounds. The resulting language is then translated using an old Hebrew dialect. The following panel will illustrate this method.


Ancient History from the Scribes of Purgatory

Of the hundreds of panels located at this particular site, south of La Junta, Colorado, most were grouped in long, horizontal rows. Some of these rows extended almost 60 feet. Photographing a panel of this size was not anticipated at the time of Viewzone's 1998 Expedition, led by Gary Vey; however, thanks to the Polaroid Corporation, we have been given a hi-resolution camera which has enabled permanent digital records of this site to be made. We located three medium resolution photographs that were taken in the 1998 Expedition and were able to combine these digital images to illustrate a panel that is almost 6 meters square. This panel is shown on the right.

The canyon itself is the perfect place to use flooding techniques for farming and there is ample evidence of many thriving communities along the sunny side of the canyon walls. There is evidence of canopy construction from the pairs of holes in the canyon's western face. These would have supported wooden poles which would then become the supports for a roof. [In the linked photograph you can see the holes (white arrows) - and also a "Yah" symbol, presumably placed over the roof line as a sign of respect - and a curious petroglyph of a crib? (red arrows)].

The panel (right) shows some excellent examples of the Old Negev script and is almost free from the Plains Indian carvings that often make translations so difficult to read.

This panel illustrates several "ligatures" which combine the basic alphabetical symbols. It also includes the utilization of "ideograms" such as "the pillar of truth" which denotes that the phrase is an important one whose validity and certainty are not to be doubted.

Once the collection of symbols is copied, the flow and direction of the translation must be determined. In this panel the symbols begin in the upper left and move down. Then, the symbols are read from right to left, following the horizontal pattern, then they continue from top to bottom. An understanding of old Hebrew and a familiarity with Old Negev are assets that Dr. Harris, who translated this panel, has acquired in his years of studying such petroglyphs in the Sinai, Utah and Nevada. His initial translations are often right on target. On certain panels, he attempts to translate in different directions to see if the results vary or are still linguistically patent. It not uncommon to find a series of letters that reads from both directions and each meaning compliments the other. As Vey states, "This is one way that this ancient language of 22 symbols and of words no longer than three characters could be so specific in meaning. Ligatures are another such tool, allowing the arrangement of symbols to be both 'read' in the traditional sense, and also 'recognized' by their configuration."

The panel above was successfully organized as seen below:

As the First and the Last, He will be, He will be, Yah.

Fear the sound of increasing truth (pillar of truth) descending from my cover (hiding place).

Obviously, as with all of the translations, the context of the phrases cannot be known and so the exact meaning of the words is lost to time. This could have been a prayer or a song or an idiom expression.

Consider some of our common expressions like, "The grass is always greener..." or "A stitch in time saves nine..." These phrases could pose similar problems to future scholars of our language if they were to be interpreted literally. Perhaps "increasing truth descending from my cover (hiding place)" is another way of asking for blessings to be bestowed on one's home.

In any case, this translation, and the several examples that follow, demonstrate the ability to give meaning to the Colorado petroglyphs and show a cultural link between these authors and their ancestors who lived in the middle east some 3500 years ago.

The following examples are translations from the Purgatory River area which are based upon sketches that were drawn from slides and photographs of Bill McGlone, who hosted Viewzone's visit to the site in 1998. Bill had an extensive collection of photographs that he took of each panel of petroglyphs at different times of the day. He always attempted to photograph the canyon walls when the sun was at just the right angle to illuminate the faint depressions and his expertise in knowing the optimal time for each particular location allowed many of the most ancient petroglyphs to be seen when they would otherwise never have been noticed. Although we do not have the photographs to accompany these translations, Viewzone did, in fact, witness a majority of the collection being presented in this feature.

More ligatures from the "mound."

Dating techniques have placed the old negev style of writing, found on the most obvious and recent layers, to be a few hundred years BC. The hundreds of years difference in the use of old negev script in Israel and in Colorado is likely due to the spread and assimilation of this Semitic culture from their more ancient colonies in Mexico. Dr. Harris is especially careful in illustrating this in his book. Several layers deep there is still more old negev, suggesting an inhabitation period of substantial length.

Ted Barker and his wife, Alma, worked closely with McGlone for years. They have been responsible for many unique discoveries, such as the Solar alignment of certain symbols and shadows cast by geographic elements. Ted's knowledge of the area and its unpredictable terrain allowed the team to explore this extremely remote area of America.

In this photograph you can see how the canyon walls have literally been ground to a flat finish by the millennia of script. The interesting "figure" in the far right of the picture is actually made up entirely of old negev characters. Some of the older and more abstract petroglyphs lie hidden beneath these more recent creations. With each harsh, hot summer and frigid winter, these petroglyphs sustain the effects of cracking and flaking. Unless they are documented soon, an important part of early American history will be lost forever.

Since this preliminary publication on, we have made provisional arrangements to accompany Dr. James Harris to Cairo and the Negev region to document the widdle-east version of this alphabet system. We will then be comparing this, along with attempted translations, as we examine the Colorado site in mid-Spring. A translation program has been designed that converts symbols from negev to english meanings and is available at It has a database that is 70 percent complete and is a work in progress. Some examples of translations which utilized this program can be seen at

The translation program is only as good as the data which is entered. The sequence of letters is not covered by any known convention, and therefore some interpretation of the pattern is needed. Most, but not all, Colorado petroglyphs are read from right-to-left. With a stacked ligature, bottom-to-top reading is usually associated with references to God, while the reverse is true for earthly matters. With experience, complex ligatures can be successfully broken down into their correct sequence and will result in accurate translations.

Distinguishing between word groups was accomplished by repeating the last letter in a word or phrase. A double letter, therefore, is a helpful indicator of the sequence with which old Negev alphabetical letters should be read. This rule is also not adhered to completely and some scripts simply end with no duplicity.